Vaetchanan – Shabbat Nachamu 5782 – Where is Our Nechama?

Immediately following Tisha B’Av and the related stringencies we keep until the following day at chatzot, we herald in a wave of comfort. This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Nachamu” coming from the words of the Haftarah “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami, Comfort, Comfort my nation,” and this verse ushers in seven consecutive weeks of consolation through words of our prophets. As is often the case, we look around in our lives and we wonder where this nechama is supposed to be. Sometimes it hits much harder, like in the weeks of the shiva dinechemta when war raged in Israel. Shabbat Nachamu 2006 was only a few weeks after the terrifying capture of IDF soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev, and the heartbreaking saga of the capture and murder of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrah in 2014. Then, as in other times of tumult for our people, Tisha B’Av came and went but the nechama was seemingly anywhere but among us.

In his youth, Rabbi Soloveitchik once asked his father why there are so many unresolved questions across the Talmud. His father answered him that not every event can be comprehended by human beings. It’s one of the most frustrating things. Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer, but I can try and put forth a suggestion about prospective. 

One of the most spurious claims about Jews in modern times is the trope of dual loyalty. But being a member of Klal Yisrael means that we live with the duality of being able to celebrate amid sadness. We add many customs of mourning and remembrance at every Jewish wedding, a time of otherwise unbridled happiness.

We can go back in time and pour over the various events that have befallen the Jewish people and find silver linings. The Gemara at the end of Makkot (24b) recounts the story of Rabbi Akiva and three other sages walking by the ruins of the Beit Hamikdash when they spotted a fox running around the spot where the kodesh hakodashim once stood. The sages started weeping bitterly, while Rabbi Akiva began to laugh. His colleagues looked were puzzled at how he was able to take delight in such a spectacle. Rabbi Akiva answered them now that he has seen the prophecy or Uriah Hanavi be fulfilled, regarding the Holy Temple having been ravaged, so too we now know that the nevuah of Zechariah Hanavi, that again the streets of Jerusalem will be filled with old men and women, will surely come to fruition. Rabbi Akiva’s colleagues answered back to him “Akiva you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us.

If we all employ the approach of Rabbi Akiva’s holy cohort, we may still be crying uncontrollably. True, we know there are horrible things going on around us, but we must realize that better days are ahead of us. Rabbi Akiva’s perspective did not undo the destruction that occurred or rebuild the Temple right then and there.

Even amid our sadness and pain, it’s incredible to look back and marvel at how our communities come together when one of our own is in need. Meal trains, Tehillim chats, etc. Even if the results do not turn out the way we want them to, our efforts aren’t for naught. To paraphrase Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk on how and when one can find God in their lives, we can find nechama wherever we let it in. Let us find nechama from the words of the pasukim from our Parsha: “From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are distressed, and all these things happen upon you in the end of days, then you will return to the Lord your God and obey Him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not let you loose or destroy you; neither will He forget the covenant of your fathers, which He swore to them. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not let you loose or destroy you; neither will He forget the covenant of your fathers, which He swore to them.” Rashi comments that “not let you loose” means that He will not loosen his hold on you, that we will always be close to the Almighty no matter what the circumstance.

Being comforted doesn’t mean that everything will automatically be better or go back to the way it was. One of the most touching videos I’ve seen that helps hammer this message home is from Chai Lifeline where Rabbi Yerucham Olshin, one of the four heads of the country’s largest yeshiva, is at a hospital visiting a young girl with a brain tumor. The girls asks the rosh yeshiva for a bracha that she should be able to go to camp, and Rav Olshin responds with a bracha. She the clarifies, “no, I mean like right away!” This child has been in and out of the hospital battling her illness. She doesn’t ask for a bracha that she should be immediately healed and there should be no trace of the tumor ever again, while we know she would certainly want this. The blessing she sought was that she could go to camp, to feel like a regular child “because it’s the only place where everyone understands me. At camp, I don’t feel so alone because I see that everyone is going through a hard time.” In the end, while she was too sick to attend camp for the whole session, her doctors gave clearance for to go up for a couple of days. You can see the difference on her face before, as she talks to the rosh yeshiva, and after she returns from her short visit.

May Hashem grant us the strength to always find comfort.


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